Darby Patterson

This column was first published in the Mountain Democrat.
Article by Jordan Hyatt-Miller
Pictures by Caitlin Thompson
Darby - Photo by Caitlin Thompson
Darby - Photo by Caitlin Thompson-3edit
Darby - Photo by Caitlin Thompson-1edit
Darby - Photo by Caitlin Thompson-5edit

Darby Patterson, a local journalist, novelist, and bronze sculptor, will soon be unveiling her latest work: a bronze monument to the Heroes of the Caldor Fire. The monument will be installed on the property of 50 Grand Restaurant and Bar in Pollock Pines. Its central location on Pony Express Trail, opposite the Fire Station, will make it a highly visible landmark for locals and visitors alike; its permanence will make it an enduring reminder for future generations.


Darby was born in Minnesota, but soon “ran away” to California to attend the University of California at Santa Barbara. Although her degree was in anthropology, she embarked on a career in journalism after moving to the Yosemite area. She founded a monthly publication, the Timberline Times, which was staffed exclusively by women. The paper, Darby explains, “was a labor of love that never made any money at all.” Still, the experience she gained there was her entrée into a career as a professional journalist at papers throughout California.


While working on a story about the Bennett Foundry in Placerville for the now-defunct Sacramento Union newspaper, Darby became enamored with bronzeworking. “I was bitten by the bug,” she recalls. “I worked in a foundry for several months and got to know the whole back-end process. What happens at a foundry is timeless magic—bronzeworking is almost as old as humanity.” Darby added bronze to her creative repertoire; in addition to novels such as “The Song of Jackass Creek”, she began producing sculptures at her house in Pollock Pines.


In 2021, Pollock Pines, the center of Darby’s creative practice, became a staging ground for something else entirely: the heroic fight to contain the devastating Caldor Fire. Darby and her husband were forced to evacuate. When they returned, Darby recalled seeing hundreds of impromptu tributes to those who battled the fire: paper signs, hand-painted and magic-markered with messages of thanks and support, lining the roadways leading up to Pollock Pines. Darby was deeply touched by the tribute, but also troubled: “I’m thinking, ‘Oh, that’s so wonderful.’ But I’m also thinking, ‘This is going to be gone in less than a year.’ I thought to myself, ‘Gratitude for this should last longer. It should last forever.’”


To create an enduring expression of gratitude, Darby turned to the permanence of bronze. Heroes of the Caldor Fire, a series of highly accurate, detailed bronze sculptures, will immortalize the men and women who saved countless lives, acres, and structures—including Darby’s own home. “I had covered fires as a journalist before, but I had never had my own home at risk. There were so many human quasi-miracles that happened; the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to memorialize that for the future.”


For Darby, the meaning of the monument is supported by the medium, the material from which it is made. “Bronze pretty much doesn’t burn. It’s a symbol of resilience, and how close we can come to forever. When you do something in bronze, it’s an acknowledgment of something important.”

In addition to memorializing the effort to defeat the Caldor Fire, the bronze sculptures will serve as a reminder and an exhortation to future generations: “We need to be reminded of how important it is to be stewards of this environment up here,” Darby explains. “I wanted to say thank you, but I also wanted to express a cautionary tale.”


Work on the monument is well underway. Darby has fashioned the sculptures in clay, then in wax; they are now being cast in bronze. As Darby looks ahead to the installation of the monument, she hopes that the community will continue to support the project, either through donations to help cover the cost of the bronze casting process, or through materials and volunteers for the installation process. To get involved, you can contact Darby through her website: www.DarbyPatterson.com/Caldor-Tribute.